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Homily for Thu of the 1st Week in Ordinary Time, Novena Mass for the Santo Niño (Divine Infant Jesus of Prague), 12 Jan 2023, Mk 1:40-45

There is a story about a man who was in a deep state of depression because of one miserable failure in his life after another. He said he was waiting in a train station and was already planning to throw himself into the railroad track in order to get run over by an arriving train. But he happened to be standing at a train station platform behind a mother who was holding an infant in her arms. The mother did not know that her child was looking at him and playing hide and seek with him. He closed his eyes to suggest to the child that he was hiding and the child now hid his face. He opened his eyes and the child laughed like he had been found. The child’s laughter was so contagious, he found himself first smiling, and then laughing as he continued to play peek-a-boo with him. He had forgotten that he was about to commit a suicide. Like a block of ice, he had melted. And all it took was a spontaneous contact with a child who had treated him like a play mate.

That story came to mind as I reflected on today’s reading for our Novena Mass for the Divine Infant Jesus of Prague. The Gospel simply tells us Jesus came into contact with a leper, which was actually unusual in those times. Why? Because lepers were literally cast out of towns and villages and made to live by themselves in caves, out in the wilderness. They were strictly not allowed to have any contact with people.

If Jesus came into contact with the leper, it could only mean that he happened to be there also, where the leper was, in the wilderness. And we have enough passages in the Gospels that tell us Jesus deliberately went to deserted places in order to pray. Meaning, to be alone, to seek solitude. But there he also met another man who was alone, not because he was seeking solitude but because he was sick and had been forcibly isolated from the community. His illness was considered as a curse that was contagious; so he had to separate himself from people.

The Gospel story is about contact between two people who were both alone but for different reasons. One was alone because he was rejected; the other was alone because he was praying. One was lonely in his solitude. The other was not; he went into solitude precisely to have company—with his heavenly Father. One is depressed in isolation; the other is strengthened through solitude by spiritual communion.

We take it for granted that Jesus went to deserted places to pray. But I strongly suspect that he had another motive—to also be able to come into contact with the outcasts, people like the leper who lived in the margins of towns and villages. Mark says Jesus was moved with compassion—meaning, he was touched deeply by the man’s suffering. We will never make an effort to touch others unless we are touched by them.

Contact was avoided because the sick man was presumed to be contagious. We continue to behave this way, to avoid contact believing that it could infect us. But we forget that if sadness is infectious, joy is even more infectious. If sin is contagious, grace is even more contagious. If evil can have strong influence, the influence of goodness is much greater.

The leper must have seen Jesus coming. In fact he probably hid himself at first; but he was surprised that Jesus was not running away from him even if he was aware of his presence. He would not have dared to come to Jesus, kneel before him and beg to be healed by him if he had not first had an eye contact with Jesus that was enough to convince him that this man was not treating him with disgust. He had seen in Jesus’ eyes, not the look of disgust but the look of compassion and love. And he proved himself right. Not only did Jesus not run away, he actually reached out to touch him and give him comforting words which we might paraphrase as, “Yes, I also wish what you wish for yourself. May it be granted to you.”

One final note about the story. The part where Jesus said, DON’T TELL OTHERS ABOUT THIS. I don’t think it’s just about the humble Jesus not wanting his good deed to be recognized. I think Jesus knew the possible consequences for himself if this got publicized. Remember in the early days of the Covid19 pandemic, how strict we were about contact tracing? Even if you don’t have symptoms, the fact that you may have been exposed to a covid-positive person requires you to self-isolate.

But why would he self-isolate if the man who was positive was already healed? Ah, but he still had to go to the priest for certification, a bit like a RT-PCR test result to serve as proof. In the meantime, if this got publicized, Jesus would suffer the consequence—he would be avoided too. It’s like he switched roles with the leper—by touching a leper, he himself was treated like a leper. But Mark says people kept coming to him anyway. Who? What kind of people? The people in the margins, those who did not matter in society, those who were excluded, avoided, treated with disgust and contempt.

The Divine Infant is always there for people, including those who are about to throw themselves to the railroad tack to get run over by a speeding train. He smiles and plays peek-a-boo with people who are hiding in shame. He doesn’t stop until he gets to touch our solitude of isolation with his solitude of communion, until our restless souls are able to enter into his rest.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

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